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New York City Theater

Repertorio Espanol (in Spanish with English subtitles), Manhattan

Two Cubans, Freddy and his pregnant girl friend Yenny, arrive by small boat, landing on the Florida coast, and are soon caught up in the Miami world. Although the focus is on Cuban immigrant life in the States, with its dark and bright sides, it indeed reflects the travails of immigrants everywhere. How does one get ahead, find work, learn the prevailing language, cope with a new alien culture?

Universal, yes, but here it is specifically the Cuban/American story, and Cuban-born Yoshvani Medina, who wrote and directed the piece, knows whereof he speaks. He gives us a strong, hard-hitting piece. And he is blessed with a trio of actors (Sandor Juan as Freddy, Hannia Guillen as Yenny, and Alfonso Rey as Pancho) who play off each other like tennis pros sending the ball flying back and forth. Medina uses metal cage-like props which slide about easily, serving as the setting for each staccato scene.

It all works beautifully, but this all-Spanish language piece is not easy for audiences who struggle with the language. Repertorio Espanol is proud of its new “sistema de Subtitulos Simultext”—which offers small screens at each seat, providing English subtitles. But in fact it calls for English-speaking viewers/listeners to jump back and forth from screen to stage, disrupting more than it assists. The fact that this is such a physical production saves the day for English audiences.

And what about that production, that story? How do Freddy and Yenny fare in Miami? Yenny has her own agenda and her own talents—and garners a series of high-end jobs (stand-up comic, journalist, and so on). She will make it in the New World. But Freddy, despite a Cuban degree in cartography, struggles to survive. Ultimately, he is helped by Pancho (his father’s one-time army buddy and his own godfather). But is Pancho really helpful to Freddy? Though a well-established entrepreneur in Miami, Pancho has connections which are indeed shady. The question is: is he helping, hindering, or deliberately exploiting Freddy?

More importantly, should the couple stay in Miami or return to Cuba? Medina lays out in anguished form both sets of possibilities. Though we will not give away the denouement, we suggest that audiences (whether or not the “Subtitulos Simultext” works for them) will find much to contemplate in this insightful piece.

--Irene Backalenick
Aug. 24, 2012

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